We’re getting down to crunch time as far as nominations for the 85th Annual Academy Awards. The Oscar ballots have all been turned in at this point–or at least those from smart Academy members who held out for paper ballots–and we’re getting down to the last three categories we’ll be looking at in-depth – the two screenplay categories and director. I’m going to post an update on my thoughts on the Best Picture race which I discussed here in the next day or so as well.
WRITING (ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY)
One thing we’re going to see a lot this year are many “return customers” – actors and filmmakers who have previously been nominated for Oscars. Not surprisingly, the screenwriting branch of the Academy that select the nominees in this category have their favorites, which is why there are 77 screenwriters who have received multiple nominations. This year, we have a surprising number of writer/directors in this category, and there should be a couple screenplays nominated that were ineligible for the WGA awards for one reason or another.
1. Amour (Sony Pictures Classics)
This may be one of my more controversial choices this year, but it feels like Austrian filmmaker Michael Haneke’s drama about a dying woman and her loving husband may be the one that breaks out of the Foreign Language category ghetto. We’ve seen other foreign films like Pedro Almodovar’s Talk to Her and Asghar Farhadi’s A Separation receive original screenplay nods, as did Fernando Meirelles’ City of God in the adapted category.
2. Django Unchained (The Weinstein Company)
Having won an Oscar for his screenplay for Pulp Fiction, his second movie as director, Tarantino has become a favorite among Hollywood screenwriters due to his distinctive style that’s often imitated but never achieved. His first foray into the Western genre has had a similar impact as the Coens’ True Grit a few years back, but benefits from it being Tarantino’s original vision and take on the genre. Like Amour, it was declared ineligible for a Writers Guild (WGA) nomination but not an Oscar.
3. The Master (The Weinstein Company)
Paul Thomas Anderson’s esoteric drama about a religious leader and his depraved disciple has its share of fans among critics and there’s a good chance that the Academy writers will be able to respect Anderson’s distinct vision and style even if others may not.
4. Moonrise Kingdom (Focus Features)
It’s been nearly ten years since Wes Anderson was nominated in this category for The Royal Tenenbaums–his animated feature The Fantastic Mr. Fox received a nomination in that category two years ago–but this is Anderson’s first movie in a long time that is getting universal critical appeal and commercial success and I imagine screenwriters will dig Anderson’s style.
5. Zero Dark Thirty (Sony)
Mark Boal’s screenplay for Kathryn Bigelow’s political thriller about the search for Osama bin Laden follows just three years after the two of them won Oscars for The Hurt Locker. There’s been a lot of praise of the film already, but there’s no denying that Boal’s screenplay put together through meticulous research is something to behold. It’s been nominated for many critics awards, but hasn’t won anything yet. That may change on Oscar night.
Normally, there would be more options in this category especially when there’s a new movie from Judd Apatow and DisneyPixar, but they generally feel like weaker offerings this year. Also, there isn’t a big comedy like Bridesmaids to slip in here and the strongest indies are both considered adapted. While the two movies below each received WGA nominations, it feels as if the Academy screenwriters may go for screenplays that were declared ineligible by the Writers Guild.
John Gatins’ screenplay about a commercial airline pilot with a drug and alcohol problem (played by Denzel Washington) could possibly get a nod if the Academy screenwriters want to get behind someone new, although it has some fairly strong competition in the five above. If anything, this would replace Amour despite its WGA nomination.
With a WGA nomination under its belt, there’s a good chance Rian Johnson’s screenplay for his sci-fi action thriller may get into the original screenplay category instead of one of the others with a highly original premise and dialogue that’s so distinctive it would be hard to ignore.
My Personal Choice:
Promised Land (Focus Features)
John Krasinski and Matt Damon’s screenplay for the Gus Van Sant-directed small town drama is something that’s really distinctive while also harking back to great dramas from the ’40s and ’50s as they really capture the feel of the rural characters and how their lives are affected by the ecological feud between their characters.
It’s very likely that Mark Boal will win his second Oscar for his screenplay for Zero Dark Thirty, but this is a category where it’s just as likely where we could see an Oscar night upset, especially with the likes of Tarantino in the mix.
WRITING (ADAPTED SCREENPLAY)
1. Argo (Warner Bros.)
Chris Terrio’s adaptation of a magazine article about a covert CIA mission to save six American government agents during the Iran hostage crisis has made Ben Affleck’s third movie as a director one of his most acclaimed among critics and movielovers alike. Even though it’s gotten some of its thunder taken away by Kathryn Bigelow’s Zero Dark Thirty, the screenplay is one aspect of the movie that won’t be forgotten.
2. Beasts of the Southern Wild (Fox Searchlight)
Though it was snubbed by the WGA for not being a union project, Lucy Alibar and Benh Zeitlin’s adaptation of her stage play, that became the talk of Sundance and the breakout indie of the year, is a movie that’s found many fans among a wide array of audiences and I think screenwriters will be among the group that will want to honor the innovative project.
3. Life of Pi (20th Century Fox)
David Magee’s adaptation of Yann Martel’s best-selling novel plays a big part in Ang Lee’s movie working as well as it does, and the more literary-minded members of the Academy will have read the book and know what a huge effort it was to adapt.
4. Lincoln (DreamWorks)
Playwright Tony Kushner’s previous screenplay for Steven Spielberg’s Munich was also nominated and this cross-section of Lincoln’s most defining moment as a president has really piqued the interest of moviegoers as well as those in the industry and much of the film’s strength can be traced back to Kushner’s brilliant translation of history.
5. Silver Linings Playbook (The Weinstein Co.)
David O. Russell’s adaptation of Matthew Quick’s novel is similar to the screenplay for Alexander Payne’s The Descendants, which last year won this category in that it’s based on lesser known source material that’s been transformed into something that feels original and unique to Russell’s sensibilities.
Les Misérables (Universal)
The problem with movie musicals is that very often, the screenplay is essentially the same as what was done on stage and that’s especially the case with a musical like “Les Mis” which is all singing and songs. It does have a couple of credited screenwriters, notably William Nicholson, but not receiving a screenplay nomination may detract from its chances at winning Best Picture as very few films have won Best Picture without a screenplay nod.
The Perks of Being a Wallflower (Summit)
Stephen Chbosky’s adaptation of his own best-selling novel is a terrific coming of age tale that received a nomination from the WGA and it could slip into the Oscar nominations as well, although the screenplay for Beasts of a Southern Wild was declared ineligible for the WGA and there’s probably more support for that movie then for “Perks.”
My Personal Choice(s):
Cloud Atlas (Warner Bros.)
Tom Tykwer and the Wachowskis did an absolutely astounding job adapting David Mitchell’s complex and seemingly impossible-to-adapt multi-storied novel into a cohesive film despite it being set in six different time periods and multiple genres. This marks the definition of a great adapted screenplay and it would be nice if the Academy could at least throw the movie that bone.
The Sessions (Fox Searchlight)
It’s debatable whether Ben Lewin’s screenplay deserves to be here or in the original screenplay. It is loosely based on Mark O’Brien’s own writing as well as the Oscar-winning short doc “Breathing Lessons,” so it’s hard to claim it as an original though it is very well written.
Playwright Tony Kushner looks to be getting one step closer to a “PEGOT” by having an Oscar to place next to his Pulitzer Prize, Emmy and Tony awards. The only possible spoiler might be Silver Linings Playbook and how the WGA votes will be telling.
This definitely looks to be one of the more interesting categories this year, something I’ve wanted to write about more before now, but just haven’t had the chance. This is partially because the majority of the candidates are either recent winners or multiple nominees. Tom Hooper and Kathryn Bigelow are particularly interesting cases since they won Oscars in this category in 2010 and 2009, respectively, and a victory by either one of them would be fairly unprecedented. With so many returning candidates, that would leave Ben Affleck as the only first time nominee in this category, but the nice thing about this category is that even with one director getting in over another, there won’t be that many surprises since even the two “alternates” are more than deserving. Obviously, this may be a category that needs to allow more than five nominees.
1. Ben Affleck, Argo (Warner Bros.)
There’s little question or argument that Ben Affleck’s third feature film as a director has really impressed everyone who has seen it, from critics to moviegoers and probably his colleagues in the industry as well. After two movies (Gone Baby Gone and The Town) that received attention for its acting, this is a movie that’s likely to finally get him recognition as a director.
2. Kathryn Bigelow, Zero Dark Thirty (Sony)
Three years after winning an Oscar in this category for The Hurt Locker, Ms. Bigelow has delivered a film that’s received a similar amount of critical acclaim including early accolades from the New York Film Critics Circle and National Board of Review who both gave their Best Director award to Bigelow. Without question, she’s one of the three definite nominees this year making her the only woman to be nominated in this category twice.
3. Tom Hooper, Les Misérables (Universal)
Just two years after winning an Oscar for The King’s Speech, Hooper is back with an even more impressive cinematic experience that’s becoming one of the more highly-praised movie musicals in recent memory. The question is whether or not the Academy’s directing branch will feel the same way about the film’s direction and might even consider giving Hooper a second Oscar within the course of two years. Hooper feels like the weak link here without having a Golden Globe nomination.
4. Steven Spielberg, Lincoln (DreamWorks)
Nominated six times previously and having won twice, for Schindler’s List and Saving Private Ryan, Spielberg is looking to receive his first nomination as a director since Munich in 2005, which was also his last movie written by Tony Kushner, oddly enough.
5. Quentin Tarantino, Django Unchained (The Weinstein Company)
Tarantino has received two previous nominations in this category and with the last-minute release and attention his foray into the “Western” genre is getting, I wouldn’t be too surprised if Tarantino goes for a third, possibly knocking out Hooper, the only one of the four above who didn’t get a Golden Globe nomination. If Tarantino receives a DGA nomination (as he did the previous two times), his Oscar nomination is guaranteed.
Ang Lee, Life of Pi (20th Century Fox)
The two-time nominee who won the Oscar in 2006 for Brokeback Mountain has delivered another movie worthy of awards attention, an amazing achievement in developing difficult material into a film that combines live animals, CG effects and a first-time actor which shows off why Lee deserves to have received multiple nominations. The question is whether the film already peaked, lowering its profile and the negligible early awards attention may hurt Lee’s chances compared to more recently screened films.
David O. Russell, Silver Linings Playbook (The Weinstein Co.)
Russell’s comedy has gotten a lot of attention this year and some may see this as this year’s Juno, Sideways or The Descendants, all which received directing nominations. Then again, it could be this year’s Little Miss Sunshine which was recognized more for the writing and acting, which may be the case here as well.
My Personal Choice:
Juan Bayona, The Impossible (Summit)
The Spanish filmmaker responsible for the 2007 horror film The Orphanage really blew me away with his recreation of the 2005 Southeast Asian tsunami and the emotional impact it has on a vacationing family. In a year where so many of the candidates in this category are former winners and nominees, it would be nice to get some new blood in here.
There are a lot of strong directors and films in this race, but without knowing which way the DGA might go in terms of nominations (which likely will change everything), I still have a good feeling that Steven Spielberg will win his first Oscar in 13 years for directing Lincoln.
We’ll have one more piece later this week with a brief update on the Oscar Best Picture race.